D’Angelo rocked the music world with the seminal neo-soul album Voodoo in 2000 and then left us all high and dry, yearning for more. Finally, 14 years later D’Angelo releases his newest album, Black Messiah, with almost no warning except for posting the single Sugah Daddy the day before release:
If there is one thing we can gather from Black Messiah, it’s that D’Angelo has still got it. His trademark falsetto is as clear and soulful as ever before and his grooves are still sexy and bootylicious even after 14 years of aging. I haven’t been able to find much information about the personnel on the album, but apparently D’Angelo collaborated with Q-Tip and Questlove. Pino Palladino also plays bass on the album, which explains the tasty bass lines on tracks like Really Love and Prayer.
In my honest opinion, the album starts off a little bit weak. The first two tracks, Ain’t That Easy and 1000 Deaths are a little too rock influenced for my tastes, featuring heavily layered and distorted guitar riffs. However, the rest of the album meets my expectations in terms of the sexy groove magic I have come to associate with D’Angelo. Black Messiah by D’Angelo and The Vanguard is not Voodoo, and it is definitely not his first album Brown Sugar. Instead, Black Messiah shows that D’Angelo is moving into new musical territory, which is to be expected after 14 years of stagnation.
One of my favorite tracks off of Black Messiah is the song Really Love. It features some beautiful classical guitar playing that seamlessly transitions from an ambient intro and into the main groove of the song. Pino Palladino’s bassline here is crazy. It is essentially a walking bass line like you would hear in jazz, but something is different about it. The way that locks into the pocket with the drummer is classic Pino, but the line is also harmonically interesting. The progression of Pino’s walk is cyclic, and it seems to somehow resolve and not resolve at the same time. It is hard to explain, but there is something satisfying about how difficult it is to pin-point the beginning and end of Pino’s bassline over the chord changes.
I wouldn’t say that Black Messiah by D’Angelo And The Vanguard is groundbreaking along the same lines of his 2000 album Voodoo, but it is without a doubt a work of extreme talent and soulful grooves. D’Angelo set the bar unreasonably high for himself in the past, which might even explain why it took him 14 years to follow up on Voodoo. I don’t think Black Messiah is D’Angelo’s best work, but then again it is a bit unfair to compare him to himself 14 years ago and expect music of the exact same style and caliber. Regardless, I’m just happy that D’Angelo is officially back on the scene.